African Slave Artifact Found in Maryland

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Although the lingering memory of African slavery tends to fade from the American consciousness, there are still unanswered questions about the nature of its rituals. As anthropological theories multiply, and the technology for recording slave history improves, historians can create a clearer picture of the slave tradition. Under Maryland’s Fleet Street laid some new clues about the religious practice of African slaves, customs that may have been transferred down a long line of families throughout the South. Researchers at the University of Maryland called it an African spirit bundle, believed to hold special power due to its altered metals. 

From Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) University of Maryland archaeologists say they have found an African religious object in a colonial Annapolis gutter, one of the earliest examples of the spiritual traditions brought by slaves to North America.

The archaeologists believe the roughly 300-year-old bundle of sand and clay packed with hundreds of pieces of lead shot, pins and nails was used to ward off spirits. The bundle was believed to have been wrapped in cloth or hid with a stone ax protruding from the top. Researchers believe the 10-inch tall bundle was placed in the gutter in front of a house in the city’s historic district because running water was believed to carry spirits.

The bundle goes on display Tuesday at the Banneker-Douglass Museum, which is devoted to African-American history and culture.

The New York Times’ John Wilford has extended reporting on the dig: 

The Annapolis bundle, presumably made by a recent African immigrant, was excavated four feet below Fleet Street, which is near the Maryland Capitol and the waterfront. The object is 10 inches high, 6 inches wide and 4 inches thick. It remains intact, though an outer wrapping, probably of leather or cloth, has decayed, leaving an impression on the clay surface. The bundle is to go on display this week at the African American Museum in Annapolis.

Mr. Cochran said that as he dug at the bottom of the trench, the object first appeared to be a flat stone embedded in sediment. Then he saw small bits of lead shot scattered about. As the archaeologists freed the lumpy mass, a corner cracked open, exposing the pins and nails inside.

 

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